Vorige Start Omhoog Volgende



Our society's vision of sex and sexuality is rather unstable. For a decade or so it can be rather supple, generally approving, and then, only a little later, everything sexual is seen as troublesome or problematic. This is especially true of sexual contacts between adults and minors.

Toward the end of the 1970s many Dutch newspapers, news and family magazines carried relatively positive articles about "pedophilia"--positive in the sense that an attempt was made in them to understand how both partners involved in pedophile relationships felt. At the same time, however, they invariably stressed the adverse judgement of society at large. During those years even incest received attention which was not altogether critical: in 1969 the magazine of the national homophile organization COC1 carried an article entitled Why not go to bed with your son? (Andriesse 1969).

Thus far, the 1980s have been quite different. Now it is incest which first springs to people's minds when they think of sex between adults and children--and only its negative side, for that is all that is reported in the media: incest always equals abuse. The more horror stories told by "victims" the better, it seems. Child pornography, incest, sexual abuse, daughter raping-these have become the key media buzzwords.

A good example can be seen in how the media have handled the subject of child pornography. In November 1984 a complaint emanating from The United States reached us that The Netherlands was one of the largest producers and distributors of "kiddie porn". The accusation was made by Defense for Children International at a US Senate committee hearing, and it stated, among other things, that there were public auctions in Amsterdam where children were sold for the production of child pornography. Also the Spartacus Gay Guide, an 800-plus page annual publication printed in The Netherlands and full of information for homosexuals on where they can find other gay people throughout the world, was called "the leading magazine in this field". The real villains were the pedophiles. According to United States Customs, 85% of child pornography imported into America came from Holland and Denmark.

All of this made front-page news in our papers. The accusations were reported as if they were fact. For one whole month the leading newspapers carried stories on this almost every day. It soon appeared that part at least of the charges were nothing more than rumor and speculation. But was Amsterdam or was Amsterdam not the center of kiddie porn production? Yertrouwensarts2 Koers was sure it was. He reproached the Justice Department for being lax in its battle against child pornography: "Justice is deaf and blind," he said. The Minister of Justice said that there was no indication that much child pornography was produced in The Netherlands. Koers was unable to come up with any convincing evidence to the contrary.

Even though the accusations soon became less strident, they had already had their influence upon public opinion. People thought the wild stories must have had some basis in fact: where there is smoke there will likely be fire.

One tangible result of all the excitement was the legal prohibition of the production and distribution of child pornography. In the emotional atmosphere that prevailed at this time, it was easy to rush a repressive bill through the legislature. As Slagter (1985) commented, the new law really ought to have been given more thoughtful consideration.

The American accusation was not an isolated phenomenon. It was born out of a religious/ethical revival movement in North America which has attracted a great deal of attention. It holds that the traditional family must be restored to its dominating position of honor and young people should be protected through censorship of books and pictures from everything that might corrupt them. Abortion is unacceptable and homosexuality can only be viewed as a sickness which is not without many social dangers. The actual "victims" of child pornography, then, were not the only concerns of United States religious fundametalists and social workers. Perhaps the American accusations would have received less attention from the Dutch press if it had understood their origins.

That realization came later. In Vrij Nederland3 (22 December, 1984) Frits Abrahams criticized our acceptance of these charges and the alarm they elicited: "In feminist circles it was quickly realized how one could use 'kiddie porn' as a means of sneaking discussion of adult pornography in by the back door. 'Shameful the way (Minister of Justice) Korthals Altes treated Koers!' I heard Hanneke Groenteman say on her radio women's forum. In the same program she called upon an indignant professor to act as witness for the prosecution describing Sodom and Gomorrah unfolding before his eyes. To the careful listener the man a little later discredited his own account when, leading into another subject, he admitted he was a Catholic 'with a strong feeling that traditional moral standards must be maintained.' And so children continue to be abused--not so much by the pornographer from whom only 10-year-old material can be discovered, as by the vertrouwensartsen wanting to save their jobs, the feminists who wish to get rid of pornography and the Catholics who are still harassed by their compulsion 'to maintain traditional moral standards'."

As for the truth behind the American accusations, an ad hoc committee formed by the Ministry of Justice to study them reported a year and a half later that there was simply no evidence whatever that children were being abused in our country for the commercial production of child pornography (Report of the ad hoc committee on child pornography, 1986).

When the American charges were made, child pornography was already a common topic of conversation here, stimulated by an Amsterdam vice squad raid on the city's porno shops. The police confiscated, among other things, postcards of naked children. After the American accusations were made society took all of this a great deal more seriously. The rapt attention this received is probably symptomatic of a new spirit of the times.

Changed Spirit of the Times

The so-called sexual revolution was a phenomenon of the late 1960s. Influenced by the democratization process, a great deal of stress was then placed upon human self-fulfillment, and the positive view of pedophilia at the end of the 1970s can be seen as a by-product. Why, it was then asked, should pedophiles,just as other humans with deviant sexual preferences, not have the right to express their sexual desires? The real culprit was the social system which stood in the way of sexual fulfillment. Children, too, had to suffer under social repression. Marcuse the philosopher was an important source of such ideas.

During the last ten years people have come to perceive sexuality otherwise. It has been a time, as we all know, of worsening world economy, and when this happens the moral climate of the West tends to become conservative. Then, too, ideas about sexuality have been strongly altered by the feminist movement. Women came to realize that the sexual revolution had a predominatly male outlook, one which had brought them precious little. Issues such as assault, rape, sexual harassment at work, sexual abuse and incest, where for the most part women and girls were the victims, seemed to be swept under the carpet. Pornography, which could be obtained ever more freely and in greater abundance after the 'revolution', was seen as the great male fantasy, the acting out of which was rape.

Another Enemy

Along with the exposure of these misconceptions came another view of just where the guilt lay. It was no longer just society, capitalism or "the system", as it used to be called, but also the man which stood in the way of true sexual liberation. It wasn't the relationship between individual and state, rather it was the man/woman relationship which was important. Interpersonal relations were increasingly viewed from the perspective of power.

According to this theory, it was not a particular group of men who abused women and girls. The supposed suppression of sexuality was actually the result of the way all men had learned to practice sex. Self-interest and a collective unconscious humiliation of women were basic (Vennix 1981). Thus, as a result of his sex role, every man was a potential rapist, "a potential committer of incest, a potential child hater, a porno-addict and a latent sadistic homosexual". (Van Naerssen 1986, page 5) These weren't just ideas, they were presented as scientific fact. What the promulgators of this theory have in common with respect to their view of male consciousness was, according to Van Naerssen (1986, 5): "total contempt for every form of empiricism but the uncritical application of such global methodological criteria as might establish they are always right. Their premise that the power positions of men and women are different, that men often abuse their position of advantage, especially in sex and often unpleasantly, is, it seems to me, irrefutable."

A good example of this attack upon male sexuality is the title (but not so much the contents) of a book which appeared at the end of 1985: Sex with a Man: Is it Possible? (De Bruijn, 1985). Written by a woman, it was not intended for male homosexual readers but for that majority of women who seek intimacies with men (Is this not in itself a bit contemptuous, too?). But the altered perception of sexuality, especially male sexuality, affected men as well. Perhaps this was an important force behind the so-called "men's movement" which sprang up modelling itself upon the feminist impulse. But feminist ideas have influenced the way in which men think about themselves. The most extreme example I have seen is in Bruinsma (1984, page 114), who wrote about the "existential guilt feelings of being a man."

Pedophilia Condemned

Pedophilia also came to be viewed differently, in part, at least, because it is almost exclusively the male pedophile who is visible. Pedophilia is generally thought of as a male phenomenon. Even more important, pedophile contacts are perceived to involve partners of unequal power positions.

Power, then, is the most important dimension in which relations now seem to be measured. There is great concern over the person of least power. Thus attention is drawn to power imbalance, which is equated with misuse of power, and that, of course, is seen with especial clarity to characterize pedophile relations. The Melai Commission4 which made proposals for changes in the Penal Code relating to morality matters, accepted this reasoning without further comment. The beneficial aspects which might attach to inequality, such as the possibility of identifying with another person, were denied. One of the unfortunate consequences of our contemporary preoccupation with power imbalance is that it tends to give birth to suspicions which blight spontaneous social intercourse between children and adults--and this affects more than just pedophiles(Sandfort 1984).

It is incoirect, of course, to speak about "the" women's movement because there are many divisions within it. Recently there have developed currents of more positive thought about the lust element of sexuality, currents which seek to cherish rather than distrust it (Rubin 1984). But the movement as a whole remains hostile to pedophilia (Schillemans 1983; Pedofilie 1980).

These developments have also influenced people's thinking about the desirability of "decriminalization" in the law. In the early 70s a great majority of rather influential people were in favor of it. Then the question was whether the law might be standing in the way of personal fulfillment; now the matter is approached strictly from the point of view of whether or not our laws give potential "victims" adequate protection from abuse.

Sex is No Longer Fun

We have seen that new spirit of the times expresses itself among other ways in the manner in which sex is viewed. At the end of the '60s it was sometimes difficult to find a judge who would hand down a prison sentence for crimes of incest, according to a telephone conversation I had with a family social worker. The bench was afraid of being charged with moral bias. In the middle of the '8Os, however, newspapers came to recognize the news value of rape, incest and such matters. People now show a lively interest in the length of the sentence which the accused receives. Only the negative aspects of sex come into the news. It sometimes appears that the "experts" who are able to come up with the greatest number of "victims" can count on receiving the most attention from the media.

No more does sex seem to have the promise for us it did at the end of the 1960s. Perhaps that promise was too extravagant. In any case, sex is no longer associated with adventure, pleasurable excitement and ecstasy; rather with anxiety, disturbance, pain and danger. Sexuality in general has become an alarming force. The "discovery" of AIDS has only aggravated the situation.

The change in thinking is also visible in our government. Among other things, it has fostered a program of combatting sexual violence against women and girls to which it was easy to give a kind of automatic, unthinking support. One of the people who didn't was Labor Party congressman Roethof. On one day set aside for the study of moral legislation (1 February 1985), he commented that in this policy sex is viewed as a threat. According to him the State was reverting to its old role of moral dictator--and a feminist one at that. Looking for authority to the women's emancipation movement, the vision of one small section of society is allowed to be our moral determinant. "I can see that if we follow along this path much farther we will find ourselves enforcing through the law the 'behavior standards' of Bishop Gijssen5," he added.

Vulnerable Victims?

So sex is now associated more with danger than with adventure. Has this influenced the way people think about themselves and relate to others?

If man is a potential rapist, then there is really only one role for the woman to play: the (potential) victim. That is not necessarily without its pleasures. However serious sexual abuse and its consequences may be, the victim knows exactly where he/she stands: it is a "safe" role. The domain of sex, with all its pitfalls and pains, does not have to be entered. There is no alternative within it which might show the woman how she could come to grips with her sexual life. Thus the above mentioned book by De Bruijn (1985) was an exception: it told women what they might gain from sex and how they could go about gaining it.

This one-sided emphasis upon danger makes sex an ambivalent area for young people as well. Should you really start doing it, when you consider all the terrible things that might happen to you? Sex education texts have come more and more to emphasize protection. Children are perceived as vulnerable. And so the old ideals of the early 70s are being submerged. Then the emphasis was upon fulfillment, exploration and adventure. Anti-authoritarian upbringing, in which freedom for the child was an essential element, was perhaps not often rigorously practiced, but it stood as an ideal nevertheless. In those days people were more involved in the bringing up of their children than now because they thought that through their offspring they could build a new and better society. Sexual education, too, was influenced more by the ideals of freedom (De Bruijn & Fabery de Jonge 1971).

Undeniably, children have the right to protection from sexual abuse. But the question is how can they best be protected? The supposed vulnerability of children can act in their upbringing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to protect children more, they come less in contact with all the problems inherent in life. Thus they tend not to find solutions for themselves, which in turn makes them all the more vulnerable. Block (1984) demonstrated how this operates in an inquiry into of differences between how boys and girls are raised. Because girls are more strongly protected and controlled they are more dependent and less able to take decisive action.

Effective protection would seem to lie in an open sexual upbringing in which children, without being left entirely to their own resources, can come into contact with sex. If we want children to regard sex as something in which they ought to find a great deal of pleasure it cannot always be presented as a threat from the outside world.

Children Themselves Talk About It

As so often happens in matters which concern children, the children themselves are seldom allowed to comment. This book is an exception; the boys tell in it what they think and feel about the friendships they enjoy with men. Within these friendships they have sexual contacts which they find pleasurable. It is by no means our intent to deny the existence of real sexual abuse, or to minimize it; it is the purpose of this book to show that sexual relations with adults can be also experienced by boys in a different way.


1. The COC was founded during the 1930s and went underground during the Nazi occupation (when it was responsible for saving many homosexuals from the German death camps). The COC emerged after the war to become the most important force in the Dutch gay liberation movement. Except for a brief period during the early 1970s, it has been sympathetic to intergenerational contacts. (See Sandfort 1987 in press.)
2. In Holland a "vertrouwensarts" is a confidential doctor employed by the government to whom a child can go if he wishes to complain about any kind of abuse.
3. A weekly Dutch national newspaper of wide circulation which carries thoughtful articles on international but mainly domestic news. It has a somewhat left, non-religious, humanistic slant.
4. An expert commission composed of psychiatrists, jurists and social workers appointed during the 1970s by the Minister of Justice to make recommendations for reform of those sections of the Penal Code dealing with sexual acts. It's report was delayed for fifteen years and finally appeared in l983--see discussions in the last section of this book.
5. Bishop Gijssen of Roermond is an extremely conservative Catholic who has become one of the most controversial ecclesiastical figures in The Netherlands. Strongly backed by the Pope, he would seem to have only slight support in the Catholic south of the Netherlands. Three years ago there was an open rebellion against him by the priests of the area.

Vorige Start Omhoog Volgende